Strats vs. Les Pauls: By the numbers

There's a mindset out there that Gibson's Les Paul is a better instrument than Fender's Stratocaster.  This myth seems to be propagated by the almost two-fold price difference between the two instruments at every rung of the scale from beginners' models all the way to limited editions.  However, the myth isn't borne out by reality.

If you look at who is actually playing these guitars, the Stratocaster comes out ahead.  This is in spite of the fact that successful professional musicians can afford any instrument they wish.

These guitars were introduced within a few years of one another (the LP was released in 1952, the Strat in 1954), so it isn't like either had a significant jump start on one another.  In fact, the Strat has overtaken the Les Paul in spite of the former's dated art deco appearance and notoriously noisy pickups.  Until the 1980s, Strats only had 21 frets rather than 22 like LPs, and even then only the American-made Strats have this extension.

So what are the advantages of the Strat?

  • Fret board options of either rosewood or maple (and with or without a glossy finish)
  • Tremolo
  • Three pickups (or 5 combinations rather than 2 pickups with three combinations)
Are these factors significant enough to override the Stratocaster's aesthetic shortcomings (e.g., solid colors, top routing covered by a huge pickguard, etc.)?  It is hard to guess the rationale individual players have for choosing a particular instrument, but lets compare the lists.
Strat players Les Paul players
  • Jeff Beck1*
  • Eric Clapton2
  • Dick Dale
  • Bob Dylan
  • David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)*
  • Buddy Guy*
  • George Harrison
  • Jimi Hendrix*
  • Eric Johnson*
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi)*
  • Ritchie Valens
  • Stevie Ray Vaughn*
  • Duane Allman
  • Al Di Meola
  • Peter Frampton
  • Ace Frehley (Kiss)*
  • Bob Marley*
  • Gary Moore
  • Jimmy Page (Led Zep)3*
  • Joe Perry (Aerosmith)*
  • Mick Ronson (David Bowie)
  • Slash (Gun's 'n' Roses)*
  • Snowy White (PF collaborator)
  • Zack Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne)*

*These players have or had signature models (sometimes posthumously) through Fender or Gibson.
1 Clapton started out playing Les Pauls and SGs in his days with Cream, for example, but he is primarily known as a Strat player.  Of course, he does occasionally employ a 335 or other guitars for retro blues recordings and in concert, but the Strat remains his signature instrument.
2 Jeff Beck is another player who started out on Les Pauls.  Interestingly he was among the first (according to popular history) to remove the covers on his humbuckers to achieve a brighter (perhaps more Strat-like?) tone.  Like Clapton, he also has a signature model Stratocaster.
3 Jimmy Page is almost universally pictured playing a Les Paul (other than the iconic SG double neck), but he frequently used a Danelectro in the studio (made to sound much more powerful through his inventive recording techniques).  Further, he even employed a Telecaster on occasion, most famously on the solo to "Stairway to Heaven."

The other guys
Admittedly, there are a lot of guitarists left over.  Some players eschew either "chocolate" or "vanilla" and go with other instruments entirely.  For example, Prince, Keith Richards, and Bruce Springstein are among the famous (non-country) Telecaster players.

Then there are, of course, the chameleons.  Guys like Eddie Van Halen, The Edge (U2), and Pete Townshend (The Who) tend to change out models of guitars throughout their careers... or even setlists.

Did I miss any players of note?  If so, email me.

Copyright Alexplorer.